BBC News – Ukraine crisis: Stand-off amid fight for Donetsk airport

A Ukrainian helicopters gunship fires at pro-Russia gunmen at Donetsk airport - 26 May 2014Thick smoke rose from Donetsk airport after Ukrainian helicopters fired missiles

A stand-off between government forces and pro-Russia gunmen is continuing after Ukraine’s military sought to retake control of Donetsk airport.

Kiev deployed helicopters and fighter jets to launch air attacks after armed separatists occupied it.

A BBC reporter says Ukrainian soldiers resisted a counter attack by rebels and now hold some parts of the airport.

The fighting came as Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president, said he wanted to talk to Russia to end the crisis.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was “open to dialogue” with Mr Poroshenko but insisted that military action against separatists must end.

A local resident runs for cover during fighting near Donetsk airport - 26 May 2014Locals ran for cover as the fighting intensified. The mayor of Donetsk said there were “civilian casulties”

But Mr Poroshenko vowed to continue Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russia gunmen in the east of the country.

“Their goal is to turn Donbass [east Ukraine] into Somalia. I will not let anyone do this to our state and I hope that Russia will support my approach,” he said.

He said he hoped to meet Russian leaders early next month, after a trip to Poland where he will meet the US president and EU leaders.

Petro Poroshenko

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Petro Poroshenko: “We will fight for the trust of the people of Donbas”

Earlier, Mr Poroshenko, a 48-year-old billionaire and former foreign minister, was formally declared the winner of Sunday’s presidential election with 54% of the vote.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was a distant second on 13%.

Election observers said Sunday’s vote was a genuine one that largely met international standards.

The mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also said it gave the new president “legitimacy” to open a dialogue with separatists in the east.

Pro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 26, 2014

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Mark Lowen at the scene of fierce fighting for control of Donetsk airport

Monday’s clashes started after separatist militants stormed the Sergei Prokofiev Donetsk airport in the early hours of the morning.

Ukrainian military responded quickly with air strikes and an assault by heavily armed troops.

Correspondents said the operation may be the biggest launched by the authorities in Kiev since the start of the unrest in the east.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen in Donetsk says the fighting appeared to stop late on Monday evening, with Ukrainian government forces apparently in control of at least some of the areas inside the airport.

The mayor of Donetsk said there had been “civilian casualties” in the battles and told local residents to stay indoors – but there was no confirmation of any deaths.

The attempt by armed separatists to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Mr Poroshenko from travelling there after he said his first trip in office would be to visit the restive east.

An armed separatist takes position behind a car as a truck full of pro-Russian fighters heads towards Donetsk airport - 26 May 2014A BBC correspondent said Ukrainian forces managed to resist a counter attack by pro-Russia gunmen

Ukraine’s interim government is engaged in an offensive in the east to quash the uprising that has left scores dead.

Pro-Russian separatists severely disrupted voting there. No polling stations were open in Donetsk city or across the region.

Sunday’s election came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev amid bloody street protests and calls for closer ties with the EU.

Since then, Russia has annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine and armed separatists in the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared independence.

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A man reads a newspaper with the picture on the front page depicting Ppesidential candidate Petro Poroshenko - 26 May 2014

Media reaction to election

“Has Ukraine been reborn?” asks the Ukrainian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda. It says the election “will have a special place in the history books”. But the paper notes that Crimeans did not vote and the voting in Donbass and Luhansk – formerly Ukraine’s “electoral core”, proceeded with “great difficulty”.

“We have survived,” proclaims popular Ukrainian daily Segodnya.

Claims in the Russian media that Ukraine is overrun by extremists and neo-Nazis are ridiculed by some social media commentators. The two right-wing candidates – Dmytro Yarosh and Oleh Tyahnybok – polled less than 2% in total.

Prominent Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem proclaims an “epic fail” of Russian propaganda. “Vladimir Putin won’t sleep tonight,” he predicts.

A turning point, or business as usual?

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Are you in Donetsk? Have you been affected by the suspension of flights? What is your reaction to Petro Poroshenko’s apparent victory? What next for the country? If you are happy to speak to the BBC you can email your experiences to, using the subject line ‘Donetsk’.

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27 May 2014 | 1:07 am – Source:

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